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Monday, April 27, 2015

D.W. Griffith Keeps His Stars Busy


The Love Flower (1920) Has South Seas Aroma

Griffith inamorata Carol Dempster got her first starring part under the Master's direction in this South Sea melodrama, second of a pair DWG made on that exotic location. He puts over lovely enough effects to make us wistful for what a camera neg would yield, but alas, William K. Everson wrote of its demise many decades back. Stuff like The Love Flower laid bread-butter for more ambitious projects Griffith sought, his next being Way Down East. Maybe $438K worldwide rentals from The Love Flower made possible Lillian Gish's ice flow ride. An island hopping chase is Love Flower focus, Dempster's dad on the run for murder with Javert-like Anders Randolf in pursuit, this making for hoke spread thin across tropic water, but there's Dick Barthelmess in sailing cap and breeches to lend romantic assist. Dempster swims underwater as Griffith's camera looks appreciatively on, and there's startling evidence upon drenched emergence of what DWG saw in her. I like the transition from childish bird-kiss stuff CD does in a first reel to initiative, near-murderous at times, she demonstrates as the picture goes into an improved second half. The Love Flower is "minor" Griffith, to be sure, but without pretense, then or now, to be anything more. Someone slipped me a homemade DVD of this and I was surprised to see how clean it looked. Why isn't The Love Flower on a major DVD label?

4 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Oooo! Would love to see this! Dempster is a fascinating character, forever vilified by Griffith scholars. Offscreen relationship aside, she was an odd angular physical type so different from classic D.W. leading ladies and had a fondness for screwing up her face for emotional or comic effect (always reminding me of a young Debra Winger, who also 'made faces' before, sadly, toning things down as a mature actress.)

Kinda like Dempster, would like to see more presently unavailable films...

10:16 AM  
Blogger Rae Quan said...

It's on youtube.

(for the impatient).

7:54 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When I look at the miracles Steve Stanchfield works with his materials at THUNDERBEAN I know the extremely poor copies of the Griffiths and other silent and early sound films we get from the people who provide dvds of these films both could and should look a lot better. Too bad for the films they lack Steve's determination to do the absolute best by these. I say this having bought many of their titles. I am not naming the two main suppliers. I am informed one of them has upgraded their scanner. Hope so. They could also get Thad Komorowski to help with scratches.

9:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has some observations about Carole Dempster and D.W. Griffith:


I recall seeing "The Sorrows of Satan" at the Temple University Cinemateque many years ago and thinking that she was quite good in it. Her playing was more restrained and she was attractively photographed. In many ways, this was the most polished of Griffith's works, with matched shots, tighter editing, and consistent lighting, as though he was taking advantage of the resources available to him at Paramount. Of course, it's a showcase for the always excellent Adolphe Menjou, but if Dempster could have had a career with anyone other than Griffith, this was a demonstration of that possibility. I understand, however, that this was her last film. It's amazing, in a way, when you consider how long she would live after that.

As one of your readers noted, she had an unusual appearance, the slender figure of a dancer and a thin face sketched in sharp lines. From a certain distance and angle, she could be startlingly beautiful, but from any other, she would seem quite ordinary.

What captivated Griffith must have been that tension between the two extremes and the way his imagination resolved it. The imagination is always more potent than any obvious beauty.

Her acting is much the same, sometimes subtle and nuanced, but often in the context of the flighty and overly broad, girlish quality he seemed to require from his leading ladies.

Obviously, he was having an interior fantasy played out in his films. The wonder is that the general public shared in it for so long.

Had she ever spoken, it might have resolved some mysteries about Griffith and his personal life, certainly about her, but also others. She was apparently a surrogate for Lillian Gish, who did speak, but only to deny. Did Griffith preserve the same decorum with Dempster, or did he seek with her what he could not have with Gish?

She would have found in Kevin Brownlow a sympathetic listener, and I would be surprised if he hadn't contacted her, seeking an interview. If he did, though, nothing came of it, only the silence she apparently kept until she died.

4:55 PM  

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